BROOKE GLADSTONE: And this week in media, a death and a departure. The death was Jack Paar's, who created something new and exciting when TV was just a baby. He did it in one of broadcasting's Crystal Palaces -- the Tonight Show -- where he reigned from 1957 to 1962, between the monarchies of entertainers Steve Allen and Comedian Johnny Carson. Paar was neither, really. He was just a curious guy who was impressed by talent and subject to mood swings -- more or less like us -- or how we might have been in the '50s. He lived on earth, and he wanted his guests to join him there, because he thought earth was a wonderful place, and because that was a side of celebrities that people like us didn't get to see. [CLIP PLAYS]
JACK PAAR: I have noticed that if you watch political programs, they are-- ask political questions, and the answers are political answers, and sometimes, I must say, I watch shows for a half hour, and when it's all over, no one's said anything when it's all over. But there is a chance that in this relaxed atmosphere of the Tonight Show you can meet people who aren't on guard, not as tense, and perhaps not as political as you would meet them on other news-type shows.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So he didn't distinguish among the different flavors of fame. He had personal chats with rising stars and established ones, and with the most powerful people on earth. John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro.
JACK PAAR: ...very late in Havana, Cuba, and Fidel Castro has just come down from his suite in the Havana Hilton after days and days and days of little sleep and some sadness which happened to him -- personal sadness in Venezuela, and I'm very happy that he came down from his suite right upstairs to talk to me tonight. Mr. Castro, I can say not as a politician -- I have no right to talk of politics; I'm an entertainer -- but as an old friend of Cuba, not a newcomer, five years I've been coming here and speaking of Cuba -- you are a good neighbor to me personally. You live right up there. Does he understand? And you're night noisy. [BACKGROUND CONVERSATION] And you're not noisy. And you have not come down to borrow any sugar. You have been a good neighbor. [BACKGROUND CONVERSATION]
FIDEL CASTRO: Okay.
JACK PAAR: And I know how tired you are, and I know how many questions you have been asked--
FIDEL CASTRO: Ah -- mind you can ask all that you want for the public opinion of the United States about anything you want.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Today, that might sound like pandering. But back then, his probing for humanity was a revelation. Now that's practically all there is, which brings us to this week's significant media departure. After a quarter of a century, ABC's Barbara Walters is leaving her perch at 20/20. Walters is a modern master of the personal probe. She's applied it to nearly every famous figure of our day, from John Wayne to Hillary Clinton.
BARBARA WALTERS: [READING] "You're right. I could hardly breathe. I started crying and yelling at him. What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?" What did your husband say? How did he explain it?
HILLARY CLINTON: He just kept saying that he was very sorry, over and over again. And I could tell that he was, but that wasn't much comfort. I was still-- furious. And-- stayed furious for quite some time. But he just kept saying over and over again, you know, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Walters was both loathed and admired for posing questions we wouldn't dare to ask. But she was stunningly successful, and her signature style spawned a generation of ham-handed imitators. Witness Diane Sawyer's recent sit-down with the Drs. Dean. Watching guests quail under such sledgehammer questioning, we pity the subjects, hate the journalists and are embarrassed for ourselves. Such journalistic excess has its roots in Jack Paar's gentle innovation, but he was no journalist. Walters' trademark moment was to wait quietly while her subjects wept over remembered pain. Paar did not elicit tears. But if he had, he probably would have cried along with his guest. He didn't sit in silent judgment on private lives, as journalists often do. [THEME MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was directed by Katya Rogers and produced by Janeen Price, Megan Ryan and Tony Field, engineered by Dylan Keefe and Rob Christiansen, and edited by Brooke. We had help from Derek John and the entire engineering staff of NPR West. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and get free transcripts and MP3 downloads at onthemedia.org, and email us at email@example.com. This is On the Media, from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.